Thursday, August 26, 2010

Back to School and the Big Picture

Wow, this summer was a blur. Now that school is back in session, I feel like things can finally get back to normal, whatever normal is!

There's a part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) form that asks what general educational goals parents have for their children. The first few IEP meetings I attended, the question stumped me. It's a BIG PICTURE question, and most of my thoughts going into an IEP are little picture details. By now, however, I've been to so many IEP meetings, I know it's coming and plan an answer accordingly.

It's a good question because we mommies and daddies of children on the spectrum are often focused on the little picture. We deal with the daily tantrums, fights to get our kids to eat healthy food, stimming (OHMYGOD the stimming!), homework, therapy, routines and breaks in routine, the struggle to bring our children out of their own private world and into the public world of social interaction.

Back-to-school time is as good as an IEP meeting for reviewing the BIG PICTURE of education. For Jack, this means he's spending far more time in a regular classroom with a full-time aide and far less time in his TEACCH classroom. One of our long-term general educational goals for Jack is for him eventually to be mainstreamed in regular classes without an aide. This may or may not be reasonable for Jack, but we're aiming high and hoping he gets there. As far as the autism spectrum goes, Jack is very high functioning, but just how funtioning he'll be in the future is, of course, a mystery.

We're a LONG way from that level of independence, but second grade marks at least an attempt to move further down that road. I'm jubilant and terrified at the same time. In the very early days after Jack was diagnosed, I didn't even want to think about the big picture of the future. It seemed too uncertain and scary and totally out of my control. Now, I've accepted that it is most definitely out of my control, which perversely makes it much easier for me to move forward and make decisions and take action with hope that it will all turn out okay in the end.

What are your BIG PICTURE educational goals for your child with autism? Do you aim high and hope for the best or keep focused more on short-term progress because, frankly, the big picture is just too scary to contemplate? How is your back-to-school experience going this year?

1 comment:

Jessi Fogan said...

Hi Susan,
Once again I had to mull this question over for a while before answering...really, up until the last several years, things were just too chaotic to consider anything but the little picture! (They are going into grades 5 and 6). Both kids have always been "mainstreamed" (I use it loosely...) because that is the only option here. However, neither spent much time in their kindergarten class, and for my oldest, grade 3 was the first time he was in the regular class for the whole day. They both had full time aides up until this year - and we're just now removing the aide support for gym, music, and for my oldest, French. This isn't really a decision based on what my kids need, in my opinion, but on the fact that there were funding cuts and there are 6 aides at the school and 7 kids with high needs, and mine are both the oldest and the highest-functioning.
So far we have been able to avoid having an IEP, even with aide support, because as long as they can handle the curriculum (even with having the aide write out test answers given verbally, for example) they don't need one. All the different little things are covered under "accommodations." That's my primary goal - to keep them off IEPs for as long as possible, even though it means for my older son that he gets mostly Cs. He is also dysgraphic, so for this year (and the future!) our big goal is to find the technology that works for him, to allow him to produce his own work independently. His speech is not up to par for voice recognition tech, but anyway, it's a goal.
For our youngest, the goal is the moon & beyond. He's had several years of huge academic success, including winning several grade-wide prizes, so I really think in long-term goals for him - completely comfortable in a classroom without an aide, not indistinguishable from his peers, but comfortable in his own self.
We joke all the time that they are going to have to live together as adults, so that Connor (oldest) can be the crazy inventor, and Riley (youngest) can handle the money & pay the bills.
Our school year starts today, with (I just found out) yet another new Learning Centre teacher (2 actually, a shared position), which makes them the 5th and 6th I've had to "break into" their jobs. Other than that, it is probably the first year that I have not been anxious the first day, since we seem to be well-prepared. Knock on wood!